Bernardo M. Villegas
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A Career Choice for Centennials

          Some fifty one years ago, a handful of business and economic professionals led by Jess Estanislao and myself launched a unique graduate program called the Industrial Economics Program (IEP), based in the newly established Centre for Research and Communication which has now evolved into the University of Asia and the Pacific.  It was so innovative that then Secretary of Education, the late Dr. Onofre D. Corpuz, had to exempt us from all sorts of regulations of the Department of Education.  The idea was to have a selected group of college graduates  from the leading universities of the country to follow a work-study program which combined classes and workshops on economics and related disciplines of  business, mathematics, history, and philosophy with actual work experience in cooperating companies where they were employed as research assistants, especially in the corporate planning staff.  The work component of the program made the graduates very marketable to the leading corporations then who were just beginning to realize the importance of business economic research.  In fact, many of them were automatically offered jobs in the enterprises where they did apprenticeship.

         We called the program the Industrial Economics Program (IEP) to distinguish it from the traditional graduate programs in economics such as in the prestigious School of Economics of the University of the Philippines, whose products generally preferred to work for government agencies like the Central Bank and the then National Economic Council, and the Presidential Economic Staff which later evolved into the Program Implementation Agency  (where Jess worked for a while).  We saw the need for economists who would be very conversant with the principles, practices and language of the business world.  It was not uncommon at that time that products of graduate programs both in the U.S. (where most Filipino students pursued graduate studies then) and in the Philippines would not even know how to read and interpret  financial statements, not to mention their not being conversant with such areas of business as marketing, production and human resource management.  We made sure that those who took the IEP—in addition to being steeped in macroeconomics, microeconomics, econometrics, monetary and fiscal policy and international economics) would have a minimum understanding of management practices.

         In no time at all, the first generation of graduates of the IEP started to be noticed by the business world.  They quickly rose to the top of the research departments and corporate planning staffs of leading multinational and domestic enterprises.  They became the favorite interviewees of business journalists as they reported on all types of business economic news.  Many of them headed major industry studies in such areas as mining, housing, agribusiness, banking, the semiconductor industry, BPO-IT, pharmaceuticals, steel, petroleum, cars, appliances, textiles, cement, and many others.  Because of their close affinity with and knowledge of  the business  sector, some of them were  appointed to top government positions such as the late Dr. Cayetano Paderanga who headed NEDA; Dr. Tomas Aquino who was Secretary of Trade and Industry; Mr. Omar Cruz, who was National Treasurer; Dr. Ceferino Rodolfo, present Head of the Board of Investment; and Mr. Jose Antonio Buencamino, Undersecretary of Trade and Industry and Country Representative to the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

         What gives me the greatest satisfaction, however, is that the proof of concept which we saw in the first generation of our graduates continues to be as visible today, fifty years later.  I just attended a webinar in which young professionals among the millennials—still in their late twenties and  thirties—shared their experiences as IEP graduates  with some  senior high school students who were being given  career orientation by the faculty of the School of Economics of the University of Asia and the Pacific.  From the mouths of these young UA&P alumni, I could hear verification of what in 1969 where just dreams in the minds of those of us who started the IEP.  I am thankful to the three accomplished industrial economics graduate who spoke in the webinar:  Mr. Marvin Bailon (IEP 2000), who is Head of Business Development and Market Planning and Contracts of the biggest renewable energy company in the Philippines, the Energy Development Corporation (EDC); Mr. John Jardy Adolfo (IEP 2008), Partnership Lead, Google Philippines; and Mr. Edmund Martinez (IEP 2005), AVP and Head, Premium Business Group, COL Financial Corporation, leading online stockbroker in the Philippines.

         From their different career paths since they graduated from the IEP, these three young alumni—all millennials—provided further proof of concept of the ideals of those of us who started the program.  They all said, almost in identical language, that the program gave them tremendous flexibility or versatility in taking on different tasks and positions.  An IEP graduate can be comfortable in finance, corporate planning, market analysis, foreign affairs, law, public administration, media, entrepreneurship and journalism.  As an educator, I attribute this to the strong foundation that the IEP gives  in the humanities and liberal arts that can most  develop critical thinking skills, effective communication (both in writing and in speech especially in the English language), and the ability to relate different disciplines to one another enabling them to always take a holistic view of human and social problems.  In fact, in the words of Mr. Ed Martinez, the IEP made them future-proof.  As we are now witnessing during the worst recession to hit the world in a hundred years, rapid advances in digital technology are making many traditional jobs and occupations obsolete.  In fact, another way of saying future-proof is “robot-proof”.   As Artificial Intelligence and robots are taking the place of human beings in many traditional jobs, the IEP graduate need not worry because he is so flexible or versatile that he can immediately shift to other more demanding occupations.  He has been equipped with the tools for continuous or lifetime learning.

         I was also pleased to no end when I heard each of them referring to the importance of the values formation that they received during their stay at the University of Asia and the Pacific.  Both Jardy Adolfo and Edmund Martinez  constantly referred to the importance of using obstacles and difficulties one encounters in life as a means of strengthening one’s will  to do good and cultivating the values and virtues needed for success not only in one’s professional  work but in other spheres of ordinary life, such as  the family and social relations.  They all referred to the high professor-student ratio as a distinct advantage of being mentored one on one and guided on the basis of a close personal relationship with the faculty.  They all agreed that the small enrolment at UA&P is more of an advantage than a disadvantage because of the unique mentoring program that is given the greatest importance by the university.

         What also sounded as music to my ears was the remark made by Mr. Bailon about his valuing his work at EDC, not only because of the economic benefits derived from the energy sector, but also because the company is making a very important contribution to promoting the common good of Philippine society by addressing the problem of climate change through reducing the carbon foot print.  I like to think that one of the important values we impart to our students, especially those who work in the fields of economics and business, is to always consider how they can make a contribution to the common good of society as they perform their ordinary daily duties.  The business economist has a special advantage of knowing at close range, not only how the economic environment impacts on the company he works for, but also how his company impacts on the environment.  By having this knowledge, the business economist is in a better position to know how his enterprise can make a difference to the welfare of the various stakeholders of his enterprise. That is another great advantage of taking the IEP.  I hope that through this column, I can convince more graduating senior high school students to take a close look at the Industrial Economics Program of the University of Asia and the Pacific.  For information, go the website www.uap.asia.   For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.